Bracket Watch: What is Louisville's ceiling without Chris Jones?
If you’ve been reading the Bracket Watch all season, you’re used to seeing Louisville in the top half of the column, before we get to the full field of 68. The Cardinals have been in the top 16 every week since we started up the watch in December. For the first time this season, they have fallen out of that class.
It has been a rough 10 days for the Cardinals. On Valentine’s Day, they lost to North Carolina State by nine at home. Four days later, the team announced a suspension of Chris Jones hours before tipping off against Syracuse. Rakeem Christmas then burned them for 29 points, handing the Cardinals their second straight loss, this one to a team that wouldn’t be in the field even if it hadn’t self-imposed a one-year postseason ban. They got back in the win column on Saturday, but needed all 40 minutes to pull out a two-point at home against Miami, a team that is currently on the wrong side of the bubble. One day later, they dismissed Jones from the program. It’s that final blow that may have ended Louisville’s season in February.
Even before the Cardinals lost Jones, they weren’t performing up to expectations. With Jones on Saturday, the Cardinals scored 55 points against a Miami team that is 95th in adjusted defensive efficiency. They had one top-30 win with Jones, and three wins against team inside our current field of 68. Without him, it’s hard to have any confidence in a team that only had four scorers with Jones, and now is down to three—Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier.
The committee will have to evaluate the Cardinals based on what they do without Jones, and there’s still plenty of time for them to get back into the top 16. They won’t really impress the committee this week with road games against Georgia Tech and Florida State, but they host Notre Dame and Virginia in the final week of the regular season. A win in one or both of those games could easily have them back in the top half of the Bracket Watch column as we head into championship week. Of course, if they were 1-4 in games against North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Virginia with Jones, what are the chances they can beat either the Cavaliers or Irish without him?
1. Kentucky (27-0, Last week: Midwest 1): The Wildcats rolled up 110 points in a victory over Auburn last weekend. With four games remaining in the regular season, kenpom.com gives them a 74.6% chance to go undefeated. Their toughest remaining test comes on Saturday against Arkansas.
2. Notre Dame (24-4, LW: MW2): Why are the Irish a 2-seed instead of Arizona? Both teams have five top-50 wins and two top-15 wins. Notre Dame, however, has not lost to a team outside the top 40. Arizona has lost three times to teams outside the top 80.
4. Maryland (22-5, LW: East 4): The Terrapins have won three straight games, getting back on track after losing three in five outings. This is a big week for them, as they’ll get their first shot at Wisconsin on Tuesday in College Park.
1. Virginia (25-1, LW: E1): The Cavaliers have four games left in the regular season, and just one of those is against a team headed to the NCAA tournament. In other words, it will take a major collapse for them to fall off the top line.
2. Villanova (25-2, LW: E2): The Wildcats had yet another impressive week, cruising to victories over Seton Hall and Marquette. If they continue on this trajectory, the committee is going to have a tough time putting Gonzaga ahead of them in the bracket.
3. Baylor (20-7, LW: E5): The Bears have bounced between the 3- and 5-lines in the bracket in the last few weeks, and they’ll almost certainly land somewhere in that range based on their performance over the next three weeks. They play Iowa State on the road and West Virginia at home this week.
1. Duke (24-3, LW: South 1): The latest Duke-North Carolina clash was an instant classic, with the Blue Devils scoring an impressive overtime win at home. They’re 5-1 against Wisconsin, Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville this season.
2. Kansas (22-5, LW: S2): The Jayhawks’ loss to West Virginia this week could have them behind both Villanova and Wisconsin in the 1-seed pecking order. They could still jump back in front by winning the Big 12 tournament.
3. Arizona (24-3, LW: E3): We made the case earlier for Notre Dame over Arizona, but how do the Wildcats get back to at least a 2-seed? Beating Utah on the road this weekend would be a good start.
4. Butler (19-8, LW: S4): The Bulldogs’ four remaining games are against Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown and Providence. So long as they win those first two and split the others, they should be able to hold onto a spot in the top 16.
1. Gonzaga (28-1, LW: West 1): The Bulldogs barely remained on the top line after rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat Saint Mary’s over the weekend. It’s hard to say with a straight face that they have a better resume than Wisconsin, Villanova or Kansas. The committee may have to give the fourth 1-seed to one of those three teams, even if Gonzaga wins out.
2. Wisconsin (25-2, LW: W2): The Badgers picked up easy victories over Penn State and Minnesota last week. While they are worthy of a 1-seed, their final two weeks of the regular season won’t be easy. They visit Maryland and host Michigan State this week, and then end the season with a trip to Columbus.
3. Iowa State (20-6, LW: W3): After wins over Oklahoma State and Texas last week, both on the road, the Cyclones now have eight top-50 wins, three of which have come outside Ames. They host Baylor and travel to Kansas State this week.
4. North Carolina (19-8, LW: W4): The Tar Heels would probably be ahead of Utah had they held onto their late lead at Duke last week. As it stands, they’re solidly ahead of the 5-seeds with four games remaining in the regular season. They take on bubble teams North Carolina State and Miami this week.
First Four, Next Four out
First Four: Stanford, Davidson, Boise State, Pittsburgh
Stanford looked like it would be the third team from the Pac-12 at one point, but losses to Washington State and Colorado, as well as an 0-4 record against Arizona, Utah and UCLA, have knocked them out of the field for now. Davidson finally got Jack Gibbs back and is trending in the right direction. Its at-large fate may be decided in its upcoming three-game stretch against Rhode Island, George Washington and VCU. Boise State owns wins over both San Diego State and Colorado State, but a weak schedule has the Broncos just outside the bracket. Pittsburgh is within range thanks to wins over Notre Dame and North Carolina. Next week's matchup against Miami may be an elimination game.
Next four: Rhode Island, Tulsa, Miami, Massachusetts
Miami missed a golden opportunity against Louisville over the weekend, though the Hurricanes could make up for it this weekend against North Carolina. Tulsa is back on the radar after beating Temple on Sunday, but they're going to need to prove they can beat another tournament-quality team to get in the dance; both of Tulsa's top-50 wins are over the Owls. Finally, the A-10 could end up being an NIT powerhouse this season, with two more of its teams—Rhode Island and Massachusetts—joining Davidson just on the wrong side of the bubble heading into the last week of February.